Mogwai is a massively influential post-rock band from Glasgow. Since 1997, they’ve released eight proper studio albums, a ton of EPs and singles, and three movie/teevee soundtrack albums. Their most recent proper album Rave Tapes was my third favourite album of 2014. Their last “soundtrack” album Les Revenants was my 24th favorite album of 2014. I’ve been a big fan for a long time. I’ve only seen them play once, and there was some ridiculous incident with that.
Last year, the band announced that they had recorded the original score/soundtrack for a BBC documentary called Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise. It’s an 80 minute film about the good bits and the horror of atomic energy. Of course there’s focus on the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but there’s a lot of good things like radiotherapy and things like that. Anyway, Mogwai recorded the score for that, and later on, they reworked those songs to be released as an album. It’s not really a proper album, but I’m going to allow it in my year-end list anyway. The album comes out on April 1 via Rock Action (UK/rest of world) and Temporary Residence (US).
While the song “U-235” is really making the rounds, I like this one a little better.
It’s true that Mogwai have been reinventing themselves pretty frequently, adding some electronics and some vocals to the mix, and that each album has a slightly different flavor. This is more true to the “old school” Mogwai. This reminds me of some stuff like “Mogwai Fear Satan” (1997, from the album Young Team). This has some tuned percussion and some horns, but it’s mostly guitar, and it slowly builds to a huge crescendo at the end that makes Mogwai what they are.
This is that song.
“Ether” by Mogwai
Listen for the tuned percussion in the early bits of the song. Mostly, though, listen for the slow build to the huge wave that crashes down at the 3:37 mark. That’s what it’s all about. In this respect, it’s a lot like old school Mogwai, and like old school Explosions in The Sky. Which is strange, because the forthcoming Explosions in The Sky record (which also comes out on April 1 via Temporary Residence) has a bit more electronics than we’re used to, and it sounds a bit like new-school Mogwai. New Mogwai sounds like old Explosions, while new Explosions sounds like new Mogwai. And if you’ll excuse the reference to “Almost Famous”: If Mogwai is doing Explosions, and Explosions are doing Mogwai, then Mogwai is still doing Mogwai.
Speaking of old school, the band recently had a split with one of their long-time members in guitarist John Cummings, who was with the band since 1995. They had the same lineup for 20 years until he left to pursue solo projects. 20 years with no lineup changes, and yet nobody talks about them as a band with longevity. It’s a bit of a disgrace if you ask me.